Follow me to Australia’s secret valley

Here’s a valuable tip for people planning to visit Australia’s east coast: you can now experience the world famous Aussie bush, while staying in luxurious surroundings only a couple of hours from Sydney.

It’s called the Secret Valley Escape – a secluded, romantic wilderness retreat in Australia’s famous Blue Mountains.

We spent four nights at the retreat – and here’s our review:

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Introduction

And as the name suggests, the emphasis at Secret Valley Escape is on isolation and a hands-on taste of stunning rural scenery

Secret Valley Escape is snuggled in the Kanimbla Valley, west of Sydney, amid soaring  sandstone escarpments.

It provides high standard, secluded accommodation in handmade mudbrick cottages or a Aussie homestead with a sweeping verandarah – all set in 200 acres of mountain wilderness.

You can wander through the many walking tracks and witness the secret valley as it opens before your eyes beneath the escarpment, criss-crossed by Blackheath Creek.

In many years of undertaking ‘Age-Friendly Reviews’ across the globe, we had never experienced anything like this; isolation and luxury so close to an international airport, while still deep in the quiet splendor of untamed wilderness.

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem free?

A: Yes. We had heard a lot about Secret Valley Escape and its popularity, often among celebrity visitors to Australia.

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Secret Valley Escape is active on social media, including Instagram – so we were able to see photographs of the facilities before we even made contact. This is a huge plus.

As well, Secret Valley Escape has an easily-read and detailed website.

The initial contact was made over the phone – and the formal booking was completed online.

The process was straight-forward, flexible and easy.

Q: Did Secret Valley Escape communicate after the booking?

A: Yes. We cannot speak highly enough about the communication. Secret Valley Escape was highly professional, thorough, friendly and extremely helpful – the equal of any we have encountered worldwide. 

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From the first conversation until our arrival, Secret Valley Escape kept in contact, provided ongoing information – and anticipating any questions. 

We received detailed directions to the area and a map to show the location of our homestead within the valley itself. 

On the day of our arrival, we also received three telephone calls, primarily to offer help with directions etc.  

Such thoroughness and professionalism was reassuring and appreciated. As a result, we found our way without difficulty.

Q: Does Secret Valley Escape have street appeal? 

A: As you approach the valley, it is everything you would expect from a wildnerness retreat.

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A country road winds a short distance from the Great Western Highway at Cox’s River through dense bushland – passing occasional farms and tiny streams. 

You cross a narrow wooden bridge and turn into the retreat, via a security boomgate. 

This is deep in the Australian bush, 25 minutes from the nearest town and silent except for a never-ending chorus of wild birds. That’s street appeal in anyone’s language. 

Q: How did check-in go?

A: Seamlessly. As outlined in the post-booking communication, our lodge awaited. 

The on-site owners stopped by to check that everything was to our liking – and then we were left to ourselves. 

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You could immediately see why Secret Valley Escape is so popular with celebrities,  honeymooners and corporate workshops.  

As well as the cottages scattered through the bush, the nearest neighbours are the birds, the towering mountains and the bubbling creek.

Q: How was accessibility, particularly for senior travellers?

A: Secret Valley Escape is located amid dense, almost untouched Australian bush. That’s the charm of it:  however a certain level of mobility is desirable to get the best out of a stay.  

Obviously, it would be neither possible nor desirable to put safety fences and wheelchair paths along ancient bushland clifftops, but neither is it necessary to wander the bush trails of this wonderful retreat to enjoy its incredible appeal.

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Even at the homestead and cabins, visitors are deep in the bosom of nature; able to watch the sun bouncing off ghost gums in the early morning and afternoon; hear the sounds of the bush echoing down the valley; and see the dark skies ablaze with stars.

The area around the cottages, homestead, workshop facilities and car parking areas are level, largely clear of obstacles and well lit at night.

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There are a small number of steps to the cottages and the homestead is two-storey with an internal staircase. 

However, once inside, the surrounding sun-decking and the rooms are readily accessible – including the ensuite bathrooms. 

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For example, hand-basins were high enough on the wall for a wheelchair to move close, should it need to. 

Light switches and power-points were sensibly mid-height;  door handles opened with little effort; there were clothes hangers at mid-height in the wardrobes; and outside stairs were illuminated by security lighting.

In both the homestead and cottages, the emphasis was on high-quality fittings and furnishings. 

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Q: Were the bedrooms big enough?

A: The homestead contains five bedrooms – all a decent size. Three of the bedrooms had King-sized beds (one of them a four-poster bed) while the other two were Queen-sized

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All bedrooms had individual lights; bedside drawers; air-conditioning, overhead fans; en-suite bathrooms, suitcase stands, complimentary slippers and built-in wardrobes  

The beds were fluffy and comfy, with high quality coverings. Some of the bedrooms opened onto the wide veranderah that surrounds the homestead, while one of the upstairs rooms had its own private balcony overlooking the sweeping bushland.

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We checked out one of the spa cottages.  It was cosy but spacious and had a four-poster Queen-sized bed.

Q: Did the homestead have adequate charging points?

A: The bedrooms easily catered for our electronic devices – always a key point for us.

There were plenty of charging points, including some on either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks. 

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There were also plenty of powerpoints in other rooms, including the downstairs general bathroom, loungeroom and livingroom.

Q: Were the bathrooms to the expected standard?

A:  Both the main bathroom and the walk-in en-suites in the homestread were modern and fitted with luxury toiletries. 

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There were adequate fluffy towels, hairdryers, robes and slippers. 

The ensuite bathroom in the biggest bedroom also contained a luxurious full size standalone bath.

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Although there were 10 people in our party, there was never any shortage of hot water.

Q: Were the general facilities in keeping with the star rating?

A: Secret Valley Escape has everthing you expect from a four-star facility. We’d heard a lot of good things about this retreat from fellow travellers and tourism authorities – and it certainly lived up to the reputation.

The location is a good start – amid stunning Australian bushland far from the madding crowd, yet within easy reach of Sydney and its international airport.

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Our experience with farm-stay type facilities in Australia was that most seemed to have an emphasis on catering for young families – or required a lengthy trip to reach them.

Secret Valley Escape proved an exception.

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The combination of seclusion and luxury, Aussie bush and a relatively short distance to Sydney is a  winner for international tourists, celebrities looking for privacy, or couples after a romantic stay. 

The retreat is also a photographer’s dream – and is a perfect base for exploring the world famous Blue Mountains in general.

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The homestead, Illowra House, is spacious and fully self contained  with quality furnishings and a high level of finish. 

As well as the luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas and modern kitchen and laundry, there is a large log fire, air-conditioning and individually-controlled fans.

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The homestead and each cottage also featured individual, private outdoor jacuzzis on the north facing timber deck.

Q: Were kitchen and laundry facilities adequate?

A: The homestead kitchen was fully self-contained, with modern appliances, including a large cooker with a double oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave.

There was a jumbo-sized dining table; a general living area off the kitchen and a separate lounge room – all finished in quality furnishings.

An electric bar-b-que is situated on the homestead’s decking – and is ideal for cooking a convenient meal for small groups.

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In the kitchen, there were complimentary fruit, detergent and a range of teas and coffee, crockery, cutlery and more-than-adequate bench and cupboard space.

The laundry included a washing machine, clothes dryer and a large amount of pantry and storage room.

During our four-day stay, the homestead was serviced and we were offered replacement toileteries, tea and coffee and detergent.

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Q: Were there any problems with Secret Valley Escape?

A: Just the opposite. Secret Valley Escape was exactly as we expected – luxury, secluded accommodation within easy reach of other Blue Mountains attractions and the transport hubs of Sydney.

While the bushland setting means that a level of mobility is needed to experience all corners of the 200-acres, the operators have made concerted efforts to ensure Secret Valley Escape is as ‘Age-friendly’ as it can be (see below)

Our only suggestions involve the need for a DVD player and screen in the living areas, complimentary wifi (if possible) and perhaps a bigger bar-b-que to cater for large groups.

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However, on the whole, we found Secret Valley Escape to be luxurious, modern, spotlessly clean, extremely comfortable, secure and a wonderful retreat from the pressures of today’s life.

And, the approachable, helpful and highly professional attitude of the managers made our stay all the more comfortable and memorable

We have no hesitation in recommending Secret Valley Escape. It is a true gem!

Age-friendly rating

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9/10:

Based on this four-night experience, it is our opinion that the operators of Secret Valley Escape have made the retreat as accessible as is possible for a genuine wilderness getaway.

They have tackled it in a whole range of practical ways – from providing visitors with a map that shows the various bush walks and the topography around them; to the care taken to guide people into the valley; and the inclusive and intelligent accommodation layout.

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On-going communication with customers; the Instagram photographs; and the easily-navigated website all indicate to us an obvious management policy of providing accurate information and informed assistance.

We hope to return to Secret Valley Escape to write a more detailed review of this outstanding retreat.

Location: Secret Valley Escape is situated in the Kanimbla Valley, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. 

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Huge revamp of transport in Sydney

Trains have started testing on Australia’s biggest public transport project – a massive modernisation and improvement of Sydney’s metro system.

New-generation trains – based on the international metropolis system used in 25 cities, including  Barcelona, Amsterdam and Singapore – are set to revolutionise Sydney travel from 2019.

They are being tested on the new SydneyMetro North-west rail system, which includes eight  new railway stations and 4,000 commuter car parking spaces in the city’s growing north-western area.

The new rail link, includes elevated  stations;  Australia’s biggest railway tunnels and the ‘Skytrain’ (pictured) between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill.

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Skytrain takes Sydney Metro Northwest above ground for four kilometres

The skytrain is at a height of between 10 metres and 13 metres above ground level and is supported with 130 concrete piers, spaced approximately 39 metres apart.

The two new railway stations on the skytrain, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, are elevated and the platforms are above ground.

A landmark 270-metre long cable-stayed railway bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill also forms part of the skytrain. This is similar in design to Sydney’s Anzac Bridge.

Timetable-free

When it opens, the new system promises a train every four minutes in peak hours and will be ‘timetable-free’: users will just turn up and catch a train.

A second stage of the project will include a revamped rail system through Central Sydney and on to the city’s south-west.

Accessibility

Sydney’s new-generation metro trains will make customer journeys easy – with an emphasis on accessibility for people of all ages.

Features include level access with platforms to multi-purpose areas for prams, luggage and bicycles and real time travel information.

Drivers not forgotten

Sydney’s transport facelift is not restricted to the new rail systems.

At the same time, a new tunnel system known as NorthConnex is changing the face of road travel  by sweeping traffic through a nine-kilometre tunnel in Sydney’s north – linking the existing M1 and M2 motorways.

Central Sydney is also getting a 12-kilometre light rail system, with 19 new Stops through the city.

This system, for which testing is also underway will complement the current Inner-West Light  Rail, which already carries 9.7 million people a year.

 

Featured attractions Sydney travel

Western Australian Vines Resort spa is acclaimed

A leading resort in Western Australia has won international acclaim for the quality of its spa treatment.

Novotel Vines Resort, in the Swan Valley, was among the winners at the 2018 World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards, held in Northern Ireland.

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Keishi Spa at the Vines Resort was named the global winner in the prestigious categories of best luxury boutique spa and the best luxury golf resort spa.

It was also recognised as the Best Luxury Beauty Spa in Australia and Oceania.

The awards celebrate exceptional service  in the luxury wellness and fine dining industries.

World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards are considered the pinnacle of accomplishment and are a benchmark for luxury hotels and spas across the globe.

This year, more than 140 countries competed in 100 categories, with entrants ranging from safari lodges to health retreats.

At Keishi Spa, guests are treated with luxury Babor Skin Care and Aromatherapy Associates in a secluded sanctuary at the Vines Resort, which is about 35 minutes from the Western Australian capital of Perth

The spa, which is popular with resort guests, features a couple massage room, dual Vichy showers and a hairdresser.

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The spa is situated in a secluded sanctuary under towering trees, between the resort’s golf grfeens and swimming pool.

Spa owner and manager, Everlyn Zaccagnini, said it was particularly pleasing to take out the global awards in sections where Keishi Spa had won its continental honours last year.

This, she said, was “a huge elevation in status and reason for us to be immensely proud.

“It is testament to the hard work of all our staff and we are honoured to win such accolades.”

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Hilltops attraction centres on a lone pine

A popular tourist attraction in Australia’s Hilltops Region focuses on a tree that became a symbol of courage.

A lone pine – long a poignant reminder of Australian and New Zealand spirit and sacrifice at Gallipoli in World War I – is a centrepiece of the Memorial Park at  the town of Boorowa.

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The pine stands silently at the end of an avenue of trees and plaques honouring the 26 Boorowa district men who were decorated for meritorious service during the ‘war to end all wars’.

Situated in an attractive location alongside the Boorowa River, the memorial park was established in its current form to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC in 2015.

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Lone pines have become a feature of World War I memorials in Australia, in memory of the battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli – in which more than 2000 Australians and an estimated 5000-7000 Turkish soldiers died in about four days.

The Hilltops Region included the towns of Boorowa, Young and Harden-Murrumburra, in the south-west of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State.

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These traditional rural areas have combined to create a modern and vibrant tourist area, focusing on history, culture, craft, agriculture, vineyards, restaurants, and quality stone fruit.

Hilltops Region travel

Lambing Flat Chinese Garden

Silence…. Except for the faint trickle of running water and the occasional splash of nearby Black Swans, the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden was peaceful and quiet.

Although only four kilometres from the thriving town of Young, in Australia’s Hilltops Region, the site could just as easily be a world away from anywhere.

It’s particularly hard to imagine the violent events that occurred nearby almost 160 years ago, during tension between Chinese and European gold miners.

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These events, known as the Lambing Flat riots, led to a law called the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act – the beginning of the so-called ‘White Australia Policy.’ 

However, that was obviously well in the past in 1996, when the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden was established to recognise the contribution of the Chinese community to Young and Australia in general.

It would, indeed, be hard to think of a more restful and tranquil place.

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We visited as part of a brief swing through the Hilltops Region, a popular tourist area in the south-west of New South Wales, the most populous State in Australia. 

Hilltops Region covers a diverse, historic and relaxing rural area centred on the towns of Young, Boorowa and Harden-Murrumburrah.

An afternoon storm cleared as we arrived at the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden and the sun breaking through the clouds spotlighted an amazing mix of colours.  

The light sparkled from wet rocks and the colourful plants and trees were reflected from all sides as we crossed the bridge to the garden. 

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After making our way past the marble lion sculptures that guard the garden entrance, we wandered down a pathway covered in yellow and red fallen leaves until we reached the Pool of Tranquility.

The view across the garden to the aptly named Chinaman’s Dam was stunning and we sat in silence, soaking up the beauty of the surroundings. It was good for the soul.

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Sitting in a valley surrounded by low hills, Young is the commercial and service centre for an agricultural area long known for its stone fruit, sheep, cattle, pigs, cereals, and vineyards. 

Under the Hilltops Region banner, the area is also a key part of a growing tourist trade focused in part on history, culture, arts, crafts and boutique farm-gate produce such as fruit jams and spreads.

And, the riots at Lambing Flat (an early name for Young) are a significant part of that heritage. Gold was found in the area in 1860 and, within months, there were about 20,000 prospectors in Lambing Flat – of which an estimated 2,000 were Chinese.

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Apparently believing that the Chinese miners were abusing the settlement’s scarce water resources, Europeans attacked and drove off the Chinese.

When about 11 men were arrested, thousands of miners rallied and demanded their release. The men went to court, but were set free.

Eventually, police ranks were boosted; one European miner was killed; the courthouse and trooper’s barracks were burned down; shots were exchanged; and the Riot Act was read for the only time in New South Wales.

Controversial then, the gold rush period is now viewed as extremely significant in Australia’s development. Young boasts an excellent folk museum, which draws large numbers of visitors.

The town has gone from strength to strength. Among other things, it is regarded as the nation’s premier cherry-growing district.

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And, to get a complete idea of the development of the area’s culture, we thoroughly recommend a visit to Chinaman’s Dam and the stunning Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden. 

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Town House Motor Inn, Young, Australia

The Hilltops Region of south-western New South Wales, has plenty of  boutique and traditional accommodation options.

For our visit, we based ourselves in the town of Young and deliberately booked into the area’s original motel, the Town House Motor Inn.

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We knew that the Town House Motor Inn dated to 1960, but had recently welcomed new owner-operators – and was being refurbished. 

It was an ideal opportunity to see how the revamp was going. Here’s the ‘Memorable Destination Review’:

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem free?

A: Yes. We checked prices with a few online booking sites; found the best price; and booked. The process was straight-forward, flexible and easy, without booking fees.

Q: Did the Town House Motor Inn communicate after the booking?

A: We received a confirmation email, but  were delighted to see that the motor inn’s has a great Instagram account, a presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and an excellent  website.

This communication was particularly informative – and the Instagram account, in particular, allowed us to  gain a good idea of the scale of modernising underway at the inn.

Q: Does the Town House Motor Inn have street appeal? 

A: The frontage to Zouch Street, Young is tidy, visible and easy to find. The Town House Motor Inn is right in the heart of Young’s central business district and is also in the restaurant and civic precincts.

It is within walking distance of the main street shopping area; the Hilltops Council office; Young Library, the NSW Government Service Centre; and the Hilltops Regional information service. It is also surrounded by eateries.

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Q: How did check-in go?

A: Smoothly. We arrived slightly earlier than expected on a chilly and foggy day, but our room was ready and warm, with the heater operating. The staff member on check-in was professional, helpful and friendly in appearance and manner. We were shown the off-street car parking area;  given directions to our room; and handed our door key and free wifi code. 

Q: How was accessibility, particularly for senior travellers.

A: The Town House Motor Inn does well, given the decade in which the original units were built.  

For a start, guests can drive directly into the off-street car parking area, from where it is a short, level walkway to the rooms. 

There were no stairs to enter our unit and it was a simple matter to wheel our luggage inside. It was also a level and step-free walk to the breakfast room and outdoor leisure area.

Our unit – which appeared to be one of the older-style rooms – was practical in design, compact; warm, well lit, comfortable and spotlessly clean. Light switches were sensibly mid-height;  door handles opened with little effort; and there were easily-reached clothes hangers in the open-front wardrobe.

 We found the bathrooms and showers simple to negotiate – but the height of the handbasin, shower hub and room layout around the toilet could have posed problems for a person in a wheelchair.

Q: Was the bedroom big enough?

A: There was plenty of space. The room contained a particularly comfortable Queen-sized bed, individual lights over the bed; wardrobe; chair; bedside draws on either side; and a luggage stand.

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There was impressive high speed wifi, tea and coffee-making facilities and individually controlled air conditioning.

Complimentary biscuits, replaced daily, were a nice touch.

Q: Were other facilities adequate?

A: The unit featured a bench area suitable to serving food and drink; a minibar; microwave oven; flat-screen television set; a kettle; and tea and coffee-making facilities.

A wide range of teas and coffee was replenished daily, as the unit was serviced.

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The bathroom was fitted with quality toiletries, fluffy towels, which were changed daily and a hair-dryer.

Our room (and every unit it seemed) opened directly onto a landscaped garden area and a self-service laundry adjoined the motor inn.

Q: Did the Town House Motor Inn have adequate charging points?

A: We always carry a multi charger and our unit easily catered for our six electronic devices. 

It was pleasing to see that the room included a power point on either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks.

Q: How was breakfast?

A: Breakfast was included in the room rate – and was typical hearty country fare.  The breakfast room was easy to reach, spacious, comfortable, spotlessly clean and looked out onto an outdoor seating area.

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There was a wide range of cereals; toast and toppings; fruit juices; coffee and tea; and fresh fruit – as well as sausages, meat patties and baked beans.

A television in the breakfast room was telecasting around-the-clock news. 

Q: Were there any problems with the Town House Motor Inn?

A: None. The owners of the facility are obviously making a big effort – and are doing all the right things.

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It was interesting to see how they are renovating the inn while maintaining a high level of service. We were certainly impressed with the way in which the owners are documenting and promoting the renovation on Instagram. Top marks!

The friendly and highly professional attitude of the managers and staff was a highlight of our stay.

Age Friendly rating

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8/10: From our experience, it’s our opinion that the Town House Motor Inn makes a genuine effort to be ‘age-friendly’, within the confines of the area’s first motel. 

We would return without hesitation – and would be interested in casting our eyes over the accessibility features of the new rooms.

A particular mention must be made of the inn’s social media communication, which is logical, but especially progressive and appreciated.

Duration of stay: two nights

Location: The Town House Motor Inn is located in Zouch Street Young, a key centre in the Hilltops Region of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State.

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Feature: The Hilltops Region

The Hilltops Region of Australia’s south-east has a look all its own.

As the visitor drives north from the tablelands and Canberra area, the countryside changes subtly. A tapestry of sweeping land opens before you, criss-crossed by obviously fertile river plains and occasional rocky outcrops – all relics of an ancient volcano, Mount Canemumbola.

It is these fertile soils that have long stamped the region as a primary industry force; delivering up grains, fine wool, beef cattle and a range of stone fruit.

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As we near our first objective, the town of Boorowa, livestock is wandering through paddocks turned white by early morning frost.

We’re mesmerised by the sunlight bouncing off the icy ground and spotlighting the red and yellows of leaves still freshly fallen from Autumn.

Stopping by the roadside, we attempt to film the beauty, knowing only too well that cameras can rarely do justice to nature’s lightshows.

The Hilltops Region features the historic towns of Boorowa, Young and Harden-Murrumburrah, along with numerous smaller villages. 

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Each has its pioneering stories and storytellers – and each town regularly celebrates its particular culture and history with a series of popular community events.

Together, the towns of the Hilltops are embracing the future; celebrating a diverse past; and carefully promoting a fast-growing tourism economy.

According to its own literature, the Hilltops Region attracted 414,000 visitors in 2016 alone, injecting AUD$79million into the local economy.

This regional development was the main reason for our visit.  We were keen to sample just why Hilltops was creating such interest among travellers – and how the region had played to its strengths to become a tourism buzzword.

And, at the same time, we wanted to see how the population centres themselves  – and the people there – had changed during the development of the Hilltops identity.

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We’d lived at Young more than 30 years ago, so that centre had particular sentimentality to us.

But, we’d been away a long time – and what we found on our ramble through the Hilltops both surprised and delighted.

Join us over the next week as we explore this journey and outline aspects of the Hilltops Region through our eyes.

As well as following this feature here on Memorable Destination, you can also join us on the ‘Memorable’ stable of Instagram accounts @memorable_destination @memorable_travels and @memorable_hotels.

The feature will also be highlighted on both our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Hilltops Region Regional New South Wales travel